Tag Archives: Katrina

plot

 

1plot \`plat\ n.  1 :  a small area of ground  2 :  a ground plan (as of an area)  3 :  the main story (as of a book or movie)  4 :  a secret scheme : INTRIGUE

 

I have been going by the house for years now, every time I am home for a visit. It was just a shell of where we lived but I felt compelled to visit every time I was back in New Orleans in the years following Katrina. A few months ago, my mom sent me an email to tell me that the house had been razed. It’s just river sand now, she wrote. She said she picked up three pieces of brick (one for her, one for my dad, one for me), a small piece of wood, a small piece of latticework—the traces that were left behind. She said she wanted to lie in the sand and make a sand angel, to place her body on the earth itself, but a truck drove up so she just pretended.

I knew, then, what to expect when I went by 3324 Vincennes Place, and yet, I was surprised all the same. I was taken aback by the shock of green grass usurping the plot. I had expected river sand, but since my mom visited, there had been time for old seeds to sprout up. To fill this hole, this gap, this absent space.

I thought: how odd to witness so clearly an absent place that is so full, this place that occupies so much space in my in my memory. The lot looks enormous without our house on it (hadn’t my mom mentioned that in her email as well?). Just one small block of green. It was hard to imagine all those rooms, all that our house contained.

I pulled out my journal and tore out a perforated page. On it I wrote: THIS WAS HOME. This (space). Was (past tense of “to be,” as in is no longer). Home (a place where families are born, where dreams are dreamed, where mornings break and evenings are put to bed). I took pictures of the sign resting in the grass in front of the plot. I took portraits of myself with my arm extended, holding the sign. I walked around the perimeter and traced the word HOME with my finger in the river sand. Then I took a stray stick and signed my name in the corner of the plot before tucking the stick in the back pocket of my jeans. Three trees stood as sentries at the back of the land and then there was just the span of grass and sand and the neighboring fences on either side.

 

 

The sidewalk had 3324 spray-painted in orange, over a version painted in white. This now marks the address since there is no longer a house to mark the space. Addresses are random numbers and letters we assign to places to make them ours, to make them home, to tell people where to find us. While I was sitting in the car across from the plot where our house was, a mail carrier, mail in one hand and a bag crossing her body, walked by the empty lot on her route.

I scanned my body. I felt tears behind the lids of my eyes—held, not held back. There was a sort of soft gnawing in my belly. I didn’t feel sad really but rather vaguely numbed out.

This was a place I had been saying goodbye to for years. A place I came to visit as one does a deceased family member in a cemetery, over and over again. Our home died to us and now the traces of it, save a long thin piece of wood with blue paint that I found and took, are gone as well.

And although this moment felt like it should be the natural point of closure, the final goodbye, I couldn’t imagine stopping my visits: even if there was a new house there, even if there was a new family in it. In the movie version of my life, we might end here as the protagonist bids farewell to her childhood memories and her childhood home and steps off into her very bright future. Maybe there would even be a flash-forward to her home-to-be, complete with husband in the doorframe and children eating breakfast at the kitchen table. So why do I feel its not over for me and this land?

It’s not a compulsion, this desire to visit. It’s more like coming to sit in silence with an old friend. There’s a kind of peace that comes from being there—from remembering what was and seeing what is real now. I can sit with all the fond memories and the painful loss of this place. It feels real. It feels authentic—this mix of beauty and joy with grief and sorrow. This house taught me how to live life and bear it all: how to grow, how to be nurtured and to nurture, how to love and also how to unexpectedly and without warning, let it all go. To say goodbye. To unhand expectations of what the space you rest your life in looks like.

 

 

I feel I owe this land so much—the place I was born into, where I took my first steps and read and wrote my first words, where I learned how to embrace and be enclosed in the arms of somebody who loved me. I learned to cry, to mourn and to go on, still and always, with the movement of life. I learned about the richness that lies in details—in the shape of a sill, in nicks, slants, the flaws we perceive as such or the ones we find charming. I learned how to observe and how to write those observations down.

It occurred to me as I sat across the street from my childhood home that while I thought I had been coming back to grieve and let go, I was also coming back to honor and pay tribute to the home that held the space for me to become who I am, to the sacred spot where my mom, dad and I became a family. I realized I have continued to come back, all these months, all these years later, because I am so deeply grateful.

 

 

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saint

saint (sant), n. [ME.; OFr. seint, saint; L. sanctus, holy, consecreated],  1. a holy person. 2. a person who is exceptionally meek, charitable, patient, etc.  3. [S-], a member of any of certain religious groups calling themselves Saints. 4. in certain churches, a person officially recognized as having lived an exceptionally holy life, and thus as being in heaven and capable of interceding for sinners; canonized person.    adj. holy; sacred; blessed  v.t. to canonize; make a saint of. Abbreviated St., S., s.


This is a special post, not one that follows the normal rules of this blog. I felt I had to weigh in on the New Orleans’ Saints victory over the Minnesota Vikings today to win the N.F.C. Championship just a few hours ago.

I am not a big football fan. I enjoy watching the game but only in the company of others. As a New Orleans native, I became quite used to the Saints losing year after year. When others were watching, I would watch too and cheer and ultimately, be disappointed. Over the past few months, I have watched the Saints both win and lose, but I have watched them play with diligence and commitment and a spirit of camaraderie. I have also watched my friends and strangers from my hometown become overcome with excitement at having a winning team, at having something from our city to believe in.I have seen the Superdome full, the fans decking themselves out in elaborate black and gold gear. I have seen post after post on facebook, friends echoing their enthusiasm about the team winning.

New Orleans isn’t always united. The town had its share of problems even before the levees broke–a failing education system, deep scars and open wounds of racism, corrupt politicians, disintegrating wetlands that make the city even more unstable. But the thing is, the city is also a place of deep spirit, of commitment, of passion that cannot be squelched, of celebration that will not be denied. And we have seen that in the way its citizens–and many people from around the country–have rallied around the Saints this year.

The truth is: We needed this. It has been a long long road since Katrina. We watched our city, our neighborhoods, our blocks and our homes covered with water. This was about more than a football team. This was about more than a championship game. Today was about feeling proud of our city and ourselves. I’m not saying that winning this championship game or even winning the Superbowl, if that’s what comes to pass, solves the city’s problems. There is still so much to rebuild. There is a deep disparity of wealth. There are problems that will not be erased without much work and dedication. But when I watched the Saints win today, I kept thinking of the song “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?” I thought of it in terms of this game. I don’t think that everyone knows what it means to see a team that has never, in its 43 year history, made it to the Superbowl  realize that dream. I don’t think everyone knows what it means to see the Superdome–a place ridden with memories of despair from when it was a shelter for Hurricane victims–turn into a place of redemption and hope.

Perhaps some might say that I am blowing this out of proportion, that this is afterall just a sports game, that it is made up of overpaid players and by people who want to make a ton of profits. All I can say in rebuttal is how it felt today to see the Saints win. I, a person who doesn’t really care about sports, was overcome with a spirit of joy as I watched fans in the dome hug each other and confetti fall from the ceiling. I was unable to get through to my parents on the phone for an hour because the 504 lines were all tied up, everyone was calling each other to scream into the phone, to cry, to celebrate.

I will argue with anyone who says this was just a game. Today provided the citizens of New Orleans with fulfillment of a long awaited dream and with a chance to showcase our city and be proud of one another. No matter what our differences, today we all have a team we can believe in, and for the moment, that feels like enough.

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